Cover Image: Making Room

Making Room

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In “Making Room,” Carl Siciliano has written a passionate, unflinching memoir focused on his arduous efforts to create safe spaces, to make room, for homeless LGBTQ+ youths in New York City. Forty percent of all homeless young people out on the streets are LGBTQ+, most of them tossed out by their own parents for religious reasons. As Siciliano declares, “these are our children” that are being thrown out like garbage, left to survive by sleeping on the streets, or if they are lucky, on the subways or in parks. These young people are forced to sell sex to earn enough money for food and the barest of other necessities. They are made to feel worthless and unloved. Many die young, often by murder or suicide.

Mr. Siciliano, being gay himself and also a victim of being disowned and ordered out of his home by his own parents, knew how these young people suffered. He made it his mission to do whatever he could to help them. In the 1990s he was successful in gathering enough support to set up a day center that offered medical care, counseling, meals, fellowship, and an environment of caring and respect. But there was no space nor funds for overnight accommodations despite Mr. Siciliano’s enormous efforts to get help from other organizations, private donors, and politicians.

In 2002, Mr. Siciliano experienced a deeply life-changing event when one night Ali Forney, a trans woman client with whom he shared a special bond, was shot in the head on the streets. He felt he had somehow let Ali down and he became driven to push ahead with any means he could muster to try to get overnight shelter for “his children.” It took years, but eventually, slowly but surely, the Ali Forney Center came to fruition. Its mission as stated on aliforneycenter.org is “to protect homeless Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning youth from the harms of homelessness and empower them with the tools needed to be independent.” As part of the program, private homey apartments became available for many of the homeless youth of the LGBTQ+ community.

We also learn about Mr. Siciliano’s own deeply religious roots which reveal that a strong spiritual life with God and living as a member of the LGBTQ+ community is not antithetical. Being LBGTQ+ myself, I found this to be very heartening and something I believe in as well.

There are numerous stories, both uplifting and heartbreaking, about many of the clients of Safe Space and The Ali Forney Center. I imagine many of these anecdotes will stay with me for a very long time.

Sadly, after all that Mr. Siciliano achieved during his almost 30 years of advocacy, there is now a strong right-wing movement in our country aiming to undo all the accomplishments brought about by the decades of blood, sweat, and tears shed by persons such as Mr. Siciliano and others to “make room” for the LGBTQ+ community in our country. I pray that it doesn’t all come tumbling down under the mantra that God hates gays. Not my God. My God and the God of many others love all people, not only in the LGBTQ+ community but within all the other minority groups in our country. We must continue to “Make Room” for everyone. This is a very important book especially at this time in history, and I highly recommend it.

I would like to thank Net Galley, Convergent Books, and Carl Siciliano for the advanced copy. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way.

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A thoughtful examination of why children singled out for rape, violence, and degradation for being LGBTQ by those who are lauded for their heteronormativeness should be protected, and in particular, housed in safe abodes. All children should be safe to the same degree. Despite the mystical view of Catholicism and other religions, this author brings a humane voice to the sufferings of these unhoused and repeatedly victimized youth who so desperately need to be treated as the humans they are.

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Siciliano is a gay man who was troubled by the lack if resources for LGBTQ youth in New York City. He worked for many years as the director of Safe Spaces, which provided a place to go during the day. But the death of a dear trans youth, along with the loss of the property they rented, inspired him to start the Ali Forney institute, where LGBTQ youth could have shelter at night.
This book details some success stories, along with many challenges and failures, and lets us know that as a society are failing these children.

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Making Room . With these two words in the title, Carl Siciliano says it all. Doesn’t everyone deserve room on this planet? Room to breathe. Space to sleep comfortably, to eat with family, to study, to play, to be? Room to be who we are without hurting others or without being hurt, harassed, or outcast? Regardless of color, creed, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation? Room to love and be loved.

The rest of the title is Three Decades of Fighting for Beds, Belonging, and a Safe Place for LGBTQ Youth . Siciliano has dedicated a major portion of his life working to provide safe space in New York City of homeless youths. Not all, but very many had been rejected by their parents, abused, sent packing because of their sexuality. In the early 1990s, there was only one shelter in New York City where adolescents could spend the night; many LGBTQ kids refused to go there because they knew they’d be assaulted, molested, or at the very least, made to sleep on the floor or apart from other teens. The center where Carl worked, SafeHaven, did not have the financial means to be open 24-7. That meant that kids were out on the street again at night; many chose the streets or riding the subways rather than go the other facility. Although this was dangerous, to them, it seemed the better alternative.

Siciliano writes with passion – both affection and frustration – about the youth who passed through the doors of SafeHaven. As a gay man himself, he understood some of their issues, but he could never walk in their shoes. He did not do drugs or rely on sex to earn money as many of these young people did. He writes often of his struggles with his faith and how he’s relied on it during the ups and downs of his work. He writes with deep feeling about the young gay and transgender people whose lives became intertwined with his in the course of his job of providing a safe space for them to be. It seems that it would be easy to disparage the religion and his church when in those days, especially, gays were basically told they were going to hell. But through much prayer and reflection, Carl’s understanding of God’s love meant loving and caring for the downtrodden and the oppressed. He writes with fondness of numerous clients; it’s impossible not to be touched by his commitment to these young people. He applauds their successes and mourns the deaths and other failures. There are some lighthearted, fun moments as well as some very heartwarming ones.

However, the author does not spare his criticism of the system or of certain individuals who have turned a blind eye in years past or who do so in the present. Things have improved in New York with a change in the mayor and governor, but there is a dearth of homeless shelters in America’s cities and towns, especially those that welcome young LGBTQ individuals.

When an administrator at SafeHaven misused funds, Carl blew the whistle. He was forced to leave and eventually was able to start a new facility, which he named in memory of a former client. It is called the Ali Forney Center, named for a gender-nonconforming youth who deeply touched Carl and so many others with his/her/their joyful spirit. Those interested in learning more can go to the website at aliforneycenter.org.

There are some, particularly in politics and in other conservative organizations, who want to restrict rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and their families. After decades of hard work by people like Carl and countless others, the dignity and the very right to study, work, enjoy life – to live – is under threat. Carl has retired, but the work of the center goes on. Now, in his book, he is spreading the word. Thank you, Carl, for this wonderful book!

I received a digital copy of Making Room by Carl Siciliano as an ARC in exchange for my honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own. Thanks to NetGalley, Random House, and the author.

5 stars

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An inspiring, emotional, and at times disturbing memoir not only of Siciliano but also of so many young people who turned to the street after rejection by their families. This is about Siciliano's journey to the creation of the Ali Forney Center, named after one of those youths who was murdered. It's also about faith, both Siciliano's and others. Thanks to netgalley for the ARC. An important read.

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Carl Siciliano has written a book with a thorough narrative of LGBTQ homeless young people and the efforts by him and others to make a meaningful difference in their lives. Along the way he describes how his spiritual experiences led him to help others in this way. He puts a recognizable face on them and helps us learn what leads them to being homeless, who they are and what they need.

This book will enlighten, educate and inspire you, and I recommend it highly.

Thank you to Net Galley and the publisher for this ARC.

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First off thank you to Net Galley and Jessalyn Foggy from Penguin Random House - Convergent Books Team for an advance copy of Making Room.

Carl Siciliano has written a memoir and origin story of the Ali Forney Center - a non profit helping LGBTQ homeless youth find housing and services. This is more than a history - it’s a heartfelt story of Carl - his origins and how that led to his interest in homeless LGBTQ youth - and his relationship with Ali Forney - a trans homeless youth who touches Carl very deeply and who’s tragedy (not really a spoiler) inspired the Ali Forney Center. Carl originally work with Safe Space - a NYC supportive place for homeless youth but which did not supply housing in New York in the 1990s. Two things stick out in the book - Carls deeply spiritual view of his mission - starting with his work with Catholic Worker and then to his own spirituality as he grew disillusioned with churches but not a search for greater meeting. The other thing is the entertaining and heartbreaking stories of the kids - how most were kicked out of their homes when they came out - often the ejection from religious reasons of the parents and culture. These are the kids nobody wants and their homelessness in NYC is devastating. Also this is the story of the hope they found with Carl -
That somebody cared and supported them - sometimes for the first time.

My only criticism - is Carls heavy emphasis on his spiritual journey which may turn off some people (not me though) - and some filler chapters at end after Ali Forney was set up - but these are minor points in the larger landscape of this moving journey and history. It will open your eyes and heart as it did mine!

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This book, written with care and humility as well as passion, is an essential contribution to the LGBTQA genre of literature. Carl Siciliano worked with homeless queer youths for years, advocating for decent shelter and living conditions until, in the aftermath of the murder of one of his closest clients, he set out to create such a shelter himself. This is the story not only of life on the streets for gay and trans people who have no where to go, and explained in graphic detail how they live their lives and what happens to them when they are rejected from their homes, from society. It is the story of a determined, traumatized, angry and passionate group of people who made a community of their own.

They organized by confronting those who denied them. Speaking to politicians and clergy who would rather they go away, and not allowing those people to cling to their rhetoric of exclusion of 'otherness'. Dealing with the financial responsibilities and those within the circle who would undermine progress to create a viable community to serve otherwise disenfranchised, marginalized young people.

The book is written passionately, with love and anger, including the author's own experience growing up religious and his need to re-interpret his faith. So many first and second-hand accounts of miracles and tragedies.

You cannot read this and feel you MUST contribute to saving lives of these people you see on the street who have absolutely nothing, no one, who have been disinherited, and feel hopeless of ever living a successful life.

Thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the PRIVILEGE of sharing the eARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Making Room: Three Decades of Fighting for Beds, Belonging, and a Safe Place for LGBTQ Youth by Carl Siciliano is a clarion call to do what's right for our LGBTQ youth. It is screaming call to repentance to all those, especially parents, who have tossed their LGBTQ children to the streets in the name of religion. Ironically, Sicialiano does it with a love that those parents could never muster. The stories he shares are as harrowing as they are heartbreaking. They are stories that must be told. He tells these stories compassionately and calls on us to do better. Regardless of your sexuality, these children are all our children and we must do better by them as Siciliano pleas. This book is one you will not soon forget. Thank you to #netgalley and #ConvergentBooks for the opportunity to preview this book.

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